Thursday, 15 January 2015

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1937: Erich von Stroheim in Grand Illusion and Results

Erich von Stroheim did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Captain eventually Major von Rauffenstein in Grand Illusion.

Grand Illusion is a great film about a few French soldiers imprisoned during World War I who continually make escape attempts from their captivity.

 The last time I covered a performance by Stroheim was for his villainous portrayal of Rommel in Fiver Graves to Cairo. Here he once again plays a German officer but this time it is obviously during World War I (since this film is pre-World War II), but he is a far different man as well. We first meet Erich von Stroheim's German ace pilot just as he has shot down Captain de Boeldieu (Pierre Fresnay) and Lieutenant MarĂ©chal (Jean Gabin). The first order from Rauffenstein though is to gather the men and have them join him for a meal. von Stroheim is great as he portrays a great pride of a soldier who is delighted by his accomplishment, not at all from possibly killing someone but rather simply proving himself able as a soldier. von Stroheim is a great as he brings a gentlemanly charm as he invites the two men in. von Stroheim does not portray his courtesy as in any way mocking of the men but of a man who honestly wishing to pay tribute to his fellow officers.

Rauffenstein disappears for a great deal of time as the men are brought to a relatively simply jail but after repeated escape attempts they are forced, along with another man, to go to a castle fortress that is harder to escape from. Rauffenstein is now the warden of the castle. Where von Stroheim presented the man in his first scene, as a man happy in his place as a great fighter pilot, von Stroheim is very effective in portraying a man who has lost a great deal in this time. Not only is he no longer a pilot but a man permanently injured having burned his hands as well as hurt his spine forcing him to have to wear a neck brace. von Stroheim gives the sense of despair in Rauffenstein in his manner as he speaks with a far less pride as he tells the men about their new living quarters. von Stroheim is terrific in having still a light touch as he creates little humorous moments that feel fitting to the character, as though Rauffenstein does not take his duties too seriously, even though still even in these moments von Stroheim presents Rauffenstein as a broken man.

Rauffenstein discovers a kindred spirit with Captain de Boeldieu because they are both are aristocrats. von Stroheim and Fresnay are quite good in their scenes together as they strike up a naturally chemistry between each other. Both connect in a certain way and this is aided by the way von Stroheim and Fresnay's performances connect. Both play their scenes at a bit of a different wavelength from every one else as their manner in war is always that of the gentleman who takes a very particular pride in fulfilling his duties. Their manners match and together you see how both have come from the same aristocratic background. von Stroheim and Fresnay tread a very fine line here since they could come off as pompous rich guys, but rather surprisingly they don't. The camaraderie they establish between two men feel so genuine and has a great deal of warmth. What works so well is that von Stroheim and Fresnay convey how it is not their wealth that truly makes the connection, but rather fact that they both know they will be lost in the world created after the war is over.

Eventually their friendship is forced into question because the Captain decides to act as the distraction to allow his other comrades to escape during the commotion. Despite his pleading for the Captain to stop Rauffenstein is forced to shoot, and von Stroheim is really very moving as he portrays the way this decision pains him so deeply to do it. Rauffenstein despite trying to shoot him in the leg accidentally shoots him in the stomach wounding the Captain fatally. von Stroheim are fantastic in their final scene together as they play the scene so brilliantly even though it seems like a peculiar approach. Both still keep themselves as good reserved aristocrats yet the heartbreak in both men is palatable. von Stroheim in his reserve powerfully alludes to how the Captain's death does devastate him as it is not only his friend but one of the few men he understands that he has lost. This is a memorable performance by Erich von Stroheim as he gives such a fascinating and poignant portrait of how a man with a very unique code of honor fulfills his duties as a soldier.
Other Performances:

Jean Hersholt in Heidi  - Hersholt plays Heidi's (Shirley Temple) grandfather in the film, and even though its a corny style Shirley Temple film Hersholt does not fall into that himself really. In his early scenes he genuinely is fairly cold and retiring in his performance and is quite affecting as he portrays the way he gradually comes to love Heidi. His revelation of grandfather's warmth is very much earned by him and does not feel sappy because of this. His scenes are easily the most moving, and I probably become more invested in the film than I would have otherwise because of Hersholt's performance as the grandfather. When Heidi gets taken away Hersholt brings some actual pathos in his performance and is quite good particularly in the scene where he curses out God to help him. Hersholt brings a great conviction to his role, much more than you might expect in a Shirley Temple film, and gives honesty to a role that could been a single note caricature.
Humphrey Bogart in Dead End - Bogart plays the role he was often confined to in his early career that being the gangster. Bogart though fits this sorta of role quite well though of course. He's especially good when he first shows up have a great cool and confidence as he passes on some of his "wisdom" to the neighborhood kids who might dream to be him one day. Bogart as per usual also exudes though that rough exterior and is completely believable as the tough mobster known as Baby Face Martin who's going back to his old neighborhood for a visit. Bogart actually is great in portraying the sense of nostalgia that he has as he remember the "good old time" with a bright smile as he looks upon the dirty old place. Of course all is not so great as he visits his clearly mentally unstable mother who is not happy to see him and meets his old girlfriend who has turned to prostitution. Bogart is very effective as portraying when reality shatters his fantasy of what was. He suggests all of the confusion and downright horror at seeing that his old actions did nothing to help his family and friends. Bogart was an actor who often benefited from stretching his talent with more emotionally volatile characters. That is certainly the case here as he not only gives an appropriately convincing depiction of a gangster, but all the more remarkable is his depiction of one man being forced to realize the truth of his past.
Overall Rank:
  1. Erich von Stroheim in Grand Illusion 
  2. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in The Prisoner of Zenda
  3. Humphrey Bogart in Dead End
  4. Thomas Mitchell in The Hurricane
  5. Joseph Schildkraut in The Life of Emile Zola
  6. Pierre Fresnay in Grand Illusion
  7. Claude Rains in The Prince and the Pauper
  8. Jean Hersholt in Heidi
  9. Marcel Dalio in Grand Illusion
  10. Ralph Bellamy in The Awful Truth 
  11. Humphrey Bogart in Kid Galahad
  12. Edward Arnold in Easy Living
  13. Errol Flynn in The Prince and the Pauper
  14. Fernand Charpin in Pepe Le Moko
  15. Thomas Mitchell in Make Way For Tomorrow
  16. James Finlayson in Way Out West 
  17. Maurice Moscovitch in Make Way For Tomorrow
  18. Ray Milland in Easy Living 
  19. Alexander D'Arcy in The Awful Truth
  20. Donald Crisp in The Life of Emile Zola
  21. Raymond Massey in The Hurricane
  22. Lionel Barrymore in Captains Courageous 
  23. Edward Everett Horton in Lost Horizon
  24. John Carradine in The Hurricane
  25. Pinto Colvig in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  26. Melvyn Douglas in Captains Courageous
  27. Harry Carey in Kid Galahad 
  28. Thomas Mitchell in Lost Horizon 
  29. Edward Everett Horton in Shall We Dance
  30. J. Edward Bromberg in Seventh Heaven
  31. John Carradine in Captains Courageous
  32. Joel McCrea in Dead End 
  33. C. Aubrey Smith in The Prisoner of Zenda 
  34. Adolphe Menjou in Stage Door
  35. John Carradine in Thank You Mr. Moto
  36. Lucas Gridoux in Pepe Le Moko
  37. Raymond Massey in Fire Over England
  38. Roy Atwell in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves 
  39. Jean Hersholt in Seventh Heaven
  40. Sam Jaffe in Lost Horizon
  41. Ward Bond in Dead End 
  42. Arthur Treacher in Heidi 
  43. David Niven in The Prisoner of Zenda
  44. Stanley Fields in Way Out West
  45. Adolphe Menjou in A Star is Born  
  46. Raymond Massey in The Prisoner of Zenda
  47. Otto Kruger in They Won't Forget 
  48. Chico Marx in Day at the Races
  49. Sidney Blackmer in Heidi
  50. Louis Calhern in The Life of Emile Zola
  51. Eugene Pallette in Topper
  52. Otis Harlan in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves 
  53. Harpo Marx in Day at the Races
  54. Jerome Cowan in You Only Live Once
  55. Billy Halop in Dead End
  56. Walter Connolly in The Good Earth
  57. Mickey Rooney in Captains Courageous
  58. Reginald Owen in Conquest
  59. Clinton Rosemond in They Won't Forget
  60. Sig Rugman in Nothing Sacred
  61. Lionel Stander in A Star is Born
  62. Charley Grapewin in The Good Earth
  63. John Boles in Stella Dallas
  64. William Gargan in You Only Live Once
  65. C. Aubrey Smith in The Hurricane
  66. Robert Newton in Fire Over England 
  67. John Clements in Knight Without Armour
  68. H.B. Warner in Lost Horizon
  69. Barton MacLane in You Only Live Once
  70. Andy Devine in A Star is Born
  71. Vladimir Sokoloff in The Life of Emile Zola 
  72. Harry Stockwell in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  73. Alan Marshal in Night Must Fall
  74. Scotty Beckett in Conquest
  75. Charles Winninger in Nothing Sacred
  76. John Howard in Lost Horizon


Michael Patison said...

Louis: Ratings and thoughts on Fresnay, Dalio, Mitchell, and Moskovitz.

Also, I agree with everything you said about the Clue cast, except I prefer Warren and Mull. Mull's scene you singled out is absolutely priceless.

I think what puts Warren over Kahn for me is how she makes an impact every time she's on screen. The way she poses defiantly in the background never fails to make me laugh. Honestly if there were a year to have a tie for the win. I'd choose that year.

Michael McCarthy said...

Erich von Stroheim's performance here might be my favorite supporting performance of the 30's.

Michael McCarthy said...

What were your rating and thoughts for Jean Gabin in Grand Illusion?

Anonymous said...

Can I have your Top 5s for Actress and Supporting Actress for 1937? With ratings and thoughts if possible. Anyway I don't quite agree with you about Bogart. I thought he was mostly dull in the role and I don't like how towards the end he becomes a bland and boring villain ruining what was a potentially rich character. He was a few good reactions but mostly I felt he was uninspired.

luke higham said...

Louis: You've placed alternate supporting '37 in the 1937 Best Supporting Actor label.

luke higham said...

Louis: your rating & thoughts on Gabin in Grand Illusion.

Louis Morgan said...

Michael Patison:

Fresnay - 4(Like von Stroheim he very effectively creates the aristocratic background of his character without making him unlikable or turning him into a standard parody of a rich guy. Past that though he differentiates his performance well against von Stroheim's performance by portraying his character as a bit more comfortable with his place although still suggesting a bit of sadness when the two speak about the lack of place for their kind)

Dalio - 4(An enjoyable bit of work and he and Gabin are both good in creating a bit of low key comedic antics as the two come up with their various schemes to escape. The highlight of his, and Gabin's performance, is the final escape. They are great as they so honestly portray the deterioration of their relationship as the escape becomes harder than anticipated, and end up making their final resilience all the sweeter)

Mitchell - 3.5(A simple but well handled role. Mitchell is good by keeping that smile on at all times, while conveying underneath the character dealing with his own faults along with that of his parents and his wife. His best scene is his last as he admonishes his siblings but Mitchell conveys his own character's guilt in a effectively understated fashion)

Moscovitch - 3.5(A short but moving performance. He nicely brings a bit of real empathy in his scenes with Moore and is very moving in the scene where he reads Moore's character's letter for him)

Michael McCarthy:

Gabin - 4(Basically see thoughts on Dalio. Although I would add Gabin is quite charming and is good at making his soldier a charming down to earth sort)



1. Irene Dunne - The Awful Truth
2. Beulah Bondi - Make Way For Tomorrow
3. Luise Rainer - The Good Earth
4. Greta Garbo - Conquest - 3.5 (Far from her meatiest role but she still does bring enough life to her fairly underwritten character)
5. Janet Gaynor - A Star is Born - 3.5(She has a genuine sweetness in the role and in the later scenes she has some strong moments with March, but I always feel her performance, ironically enough, lacks the star quality needed for the part)


1. Claire Trevor - Dead End

2. May Whitty - Night Must Fall

3. Lucille La Verne - Snow White and the Seven Dwarves - 4(Brutally cold as the voice of the queen then oh so evilly raspy as the old hag)

4. Flora Robson - Fire Over England - 4(It is not surprising that she would reprise Queen Elizabeth later on but this is the more complex of the two. Robson brings the needed reserved command in her performance yet is quite good at suggesting that there is some delicacy of her emotional state in certain moments)

5. Fay Bainter - Make Way For Tomorrow - 3.5(Not all that complex of a role, but what I like is that Bainter does not portray her character as a one note villain. She suggests her frustrations over the mother behavior in a genuine fashion, and it never feels as though she is completely without reason for her attitude towards her)

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

13 minutes. Trying to detach myself so as not to get too happy/disappointed.

luke higham said...

30 minutes to go.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Oh. Never mind. *sadface*

luke higham said...

Dear AMPAS, please nominate Oyelowo & Gyllenhaal, otherwise there'll be hell to pay.

Louis Morgan said...

Seems like the screeners was not the problem for Selma so far.

GM said...